November 30, 2006
I went to a screening of Soderbergh's The Good German this morning, and by the time I left the theater it was snowing. I'm officially happy.
Yen's back in Texas now, and we're resuming work on Ciao this weekend. Resuming, and amping up. Did I say we had to have the picture locked by January 15th? My mistake - I really meant this coming Tuesday.
November 28, 2006
The last year of the twentieth century is regarded as the annus mirabilis of modern American cinema, to which every subsequent year has been compared. There, it has been said, were twelve months during which the studios operated as if they were still in the 1970s and their function was to finance the advancement of an art form, with any potential profit relegated to the role of icing on the cake. It was the year those studios got smart and risky with films like Three Kings and Fight Club and The Insider and The Straight Story and The Iron Giant and Being John Malkovich and South Park, when blockbusters like The Matrix and The Sixth Sense were a cut above average, when Kubrick's final film and The Blair Witch Project opened on the same hot summer day. When Magnolia opened, even though most people didn't see it until January. Every year since, some critic will write that the upcoming slate of pictures is the best lineup since 1999; and yet no other year has ever managed to stick.
The poster child that September was Sam Mendes' American Beauty. It was a shot in the arm, waking audiences from their post Phantom Menace stupor. I remember seeing the trailer for the first time - with those haunting glimpses of suburban disquiet, that rose-colored eroticism, that insistent urge to Look Closer - and being overwhelmed with an excitement that lasted all fall. I was eighteen at the time, and my definition of risk was different; it was bigger, bolder, more bombastic. To wit: I saw Harmony Korine's julien donkey-boy in theaters that fall and was intrigued by its insular, schizophrenic qualities - but how could a grainy curio like that hold a candle to the magnificent anamorphic angst of American Beauty? This was a Great movie! This was what cinema could be!
Was I just immature? Did anyone else actually like the film? The other night, I watched it for the first time since it absconded from the theaters, after its inevitable Oscar sweep. I'd avoided it over the years - at first circumstantially and then, as my tastes evolved, very much on purpose. A good call, it turns out, because within seconds - as soon as Kevin Spacey's wise narration reveals to us that in fact, he may be dead already - I wanted to throw the remote control at the screen.
I recall reading an article by William Goldman around the time the film was released, in which he essentially trashed any comparisons betwen Beauty and the films that were being made in his own heyday. If it were really a 70s film, he wrote, Kevin Spacey would have fucked the girl.
You're missing the point! I thought to my eighteen-year-old self when I first read that. I was enraged! That was the very moment his character became whole! When the film fulfilled its promise, completed its arc! But Goldman was right on the money. He should have fucked the girl. Instead, the film lets everyone off the hook and, despite the splatter of Spacey's brains on the wall, arrives at a big warm fuzzy hug of an ending.
My intentions here are not to smear American Beauty. I'm not sure if I'll ever see it again, but I don't begrudge anyone for liking it, or even loving it. It does get better once that narration ceases, and when it's being funny, it's actually pretty good; indeed, Alan Ball's wit (and, to be sure, Mendes' beautiful direction) is exactly what saves this from toppling under near-Haggis proportions of pretension and profundity. It's a fine piece of tricky mainstream entertainment, but what it really made me think about was voicing a suspicion that I've had for a while: maybe 1999 isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
I went back and looked at a list of every film that were released that year. There really were a lot of great ones, both from studios and independents, from America and abroad. Quite a few of them were, and are, a lot better than American Beauty. But then I looked at a list from, say, 2002, when Punch Drunk Love and Adaptation and Far From Heaven were released; or 2005, which saw rising from the bowels of the studio system such titles as The New World, A History Of Violence, Good Night And Good Luck, Syriana, Capote and a handful of other films still fresh and vibrant in the public eye. Sure, 1999 may have signified some sort of paradigm shift, but it certainly wasn't a high water mark.
Rather, I think cinematic memories of 1999 are as much about the year as about the films. Clinton was on trial. Columbine happened. The end of the world was nigh. I graduated from high school. It was a precipital turning point of a year. As Jonathan Rosenbaum put it at the time:
Nineteen ninety-nine was a pivotal year in movies, clarifying where a lot of people stood and who they were. This kind of definition was encouraged by the existential stocktaking that came with the end of the millennium—the compiling of more best-film lists than usual (of the 90s, of the century) and more generalized meditating on the state of the art and the medium.
The Y2K bug had infected our critical minds, which was fine and good. But it's still scurrying around in there under the gauze of memory and an armament of disproportionate ideals. Why was 1999 such a landmark year for cinema? Because I was eighteen and in love, that's why.
Lately, I've grown a little tired of grouping films into fiscal periods and making those annual top ten lists (it's far more exciting and far less limited to explore alternative categorization, such as auteurs and genres and modes). But I'll admit that it's handy - not as a qualitative tool of criticism but as a sort of chronological barometer. It helps keep track of time and it's comforting, to group things together and set them apart, to compare them to what's passed and look forward to what's around the corner. It's something safe to hold onto. To that extent, we're still holding onto 1999 - or, at least, some version of it.
November 27, 2006
Land Of Nod
The Theater Fire music video I wrote about making here and here is now on YouTube. It was a collaboration with my friend Michelle - we built the sets, played all the parts and shot it over about three days, right before Ciao began production; and then, after that film wrapped the following month, I spent a weekend putting all the pieces together. It's pretty rough around the edges - but hopefully it comes off more as endearingly handmade than akwardly amatuerish.
I try to learn things from all my projects; on this one, I learned that when you're really pressed for time, making it up as you go along isn't the best approach; and also that trying to create travelling mattes on miniDV footage is more trouble than its worth. In fact, after getting used to the HVX, I think shooting miniDV in general is more trouble than its worth. I'm thinking it might be time to invest in a new camera...
Posted by David Lowery at 2:41 PM
November 23, 2006
We're having the Thanksgiving meal at my parents' house for the first time ever. Freed from the tyranny of an extended family who demands meat in anything fit for consumption, we've been able to put together a great array of vegan dishes (including an amazing pumpkin bourbon cheesecake, courtesy of Amy and James). I spent the morning in the kitchen, making a butternut squash and spinach pie while listening to Clint Mansell's exquisite score for The Fountain.
I also took it upon myself to create a centerpiece for the table. This is what I came up with:
Later, I think I'll go meet up with some friends for a few drinks, although I don't think anything can top the holiday, four years ago, when all my friends and I went to see Soderbergh's outstanding take on Solaris, followed by a visit to a bar where James and I tried to drink each other under the table. Speaking of which, it's interesting (and slightly foreboding) that Warners is releasing The Fountain on the same weekend that Fox released Solaris.
That's Thanksgiving for you - the day on which turkeys and intelligent science fiction films are sent to their doom.
One Cut Down...Again
Yen and I made our first round of refinements to Ciao the other night, and also added in the typing graphics that open the film (a series of e-mails between the lead characters). As we added the first few sentences, which one-at-a-time type their way onto the screen, we began to get nervous: were they too slow? Would audiences be put off by having to read so early in the film? Would they throw off the pacing of the film right at the outset? We immediately began to brainstorm ways to fix this potentially disastrous problem, throwing around ideas like confining each e-mail to its own static title card or chopping all but the two or three most pertinent sentences out; we even considered dropping the e-mails altogether. Somehow, in the midst this problem-solving maelstrom, it took us quite a while to realize that we should go ahead and give the original idea a try. And what do you know? It worked perfectly, exactly as planned. We'd been pretty good with not second-guessing ourselves until then.
Later that night, I did a rough sound mix (including some Arvo Part temp music) and then burned a few DVDs of revised cut. DVDs which at this very moment are with Yen, on a plane, en route to Hong Kong for Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, on a completely unrelated note, here's a belated link to Dennis Lim's excellent NYT story on Wong Kar Wai, who just finished shooting My Blueberry Nights.
November 22, 2006
Quite some time ago, I asked a friend whether he thought films required an audience. He said no, which instigated a second question: could a film that never existed outside its director's head still be called a film?
Here, purportedly, is a film of ideas - and yet the idea of the film remains, for me, far stronger than any of those within it. I've been anticipating and writing about Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain for so long now that, by the time I finally saw it last week, any notion of expectations met or dashed were trumped by the rather overwhelming sense of completion. Which, actually, is quite appropriate; the words "Finish it" are a running mantra in the film, and they've seeped through every facet of the narrative and become completely and comprehensively meta. It's finally done; the film has been shot, and the idea put out of its misery.
Aronofsky has spoken in numerous interviews over the past few months about how he resuscitated the project after it was initially shut down; he pared down the original screenplay, distilling it to its emotional and ideological core and making it a financially viable project for Warner Brothers at the same time (he shaved about forty million off a budget that was originally almost twice that). Prior to that, though, when the film seemed dead, he'd handed his more expansive script over to painter Kent Williams, who turned it into a graphic novel. He was given free reign to develop the work independently from Aronosky's vision; to interpret the script, on a visual level, however he saw fit.
This volume was released about a year ago, but I didn't pick it up until the day after I saw the film. Comparing what was on the page to what can now be seen on screen reveals some of what was excised; assuming Williams followed the screenplay, the narrative differences aren't terribly drastic. The majority of the changes were in the Spanish sequences; there was the original epic battle on the Mayan staircase, which in the film has been reduced to a brief skirmish, and a more complex series of political affairs set against the backdrop of the Inquisition. There's also an episode set atop the spherical spaceship that is a bit less metaphysical, a bit more science-fiction-ish, and a few structural differences; but by and large, this is a different representation of the same thing.
And that's the rub. This isn't an adaptation of a film; it's an interpretation of Aronofsky's original vision, in the same way as the films now playing on screen is, and moreso than hinting at what could have been, the novel functions in tandem with the film; together, they highlight the genesis of the project that exists between them, six years back: the idea that started it all; the film in Aronofsky's head.
I can't say that the film wasn't what I was expected; rather, I think that it was, and that only after the first hour did it manage to surprise me; only then did I get swept up in its self-prescribed 'road to awe' (and, indeed, awe did strike there, unexpectedly, towards the end). For all its empyrean visuals, I found The Fountain curiously earthbound. I don't actually think that this is the fault of the film; I think it was an inherent side effect of the idea becoming a film. In other words, it's as good as it could be in this form, but it's never as good as it could be before it became physical - a common disparity, perhaps, but one exacerbated by six years of treacherous and fairly public development.
Or perhaps I'm being too attributive; perhaps it could never be as good as it was in my head. Filmmakers always talk about how the film they have in mind can never be brought completely to the screen, and that it's best to set those ideas loose early on and let the film become what it needs to be; and I've always felt that audiences, who in my opinion are intrinsic to a film's existence, should do exactly the same thing.
Which is one of the reasons why I'm seeing the film again tonight.
Regardless, if a film's worth can be measured by how you think about it afterwards (and, to a fairly substantial degree, I think it is) then The Fountain is certainly a success. I really appreciate what Jim Emmerson has to say about it; after comparing the film and its intentions to works like Magnolia and My Own Private Idaho, he writes that
They're all bold attempts -- some more successful than others -- by passionate young filmmakers in their late 20s to mid-30s to sum up their own sensibilities and experience, to cram just about everything they know and feel, about life and about movies, on the screen at once.
That doesn't make for smooth, comfortable viewing, but I'd much rather watch somebody shoot for the moon when the stakes are sky-high than sit back while they play it safe.
Jim's review is one of the few favorable one; it's rather sad, if not completely surprising, to see the film being trounced. I suppose that's the cross Aronofsky has to bear, but hopefully time will be kinder to the film than those critics who can't forgive a filmmaker for wearing his heart on his sleeve while trying to push the boundaries of genre.
November 21, 2006
Forty more years, seven more months, who's counting?
I keep feeling like I should be sad about his death - and of course, in a certain sense, I am. I'm sorry that we'll never get to see the new film that he announced he was gearing up for only a month ago. But at the same time...if I live to be 81 and go out on top, doing what I love, that's not a tragedy. It's one hell of a triumph.
A great way to celebrate his life and work would be to spend the day watching his films. But for me, having been so inspired by both over the years, it would be just as commemorative to spend the day working on my own.
November 18, 2006
All My Bones, They Are Gone, Gone Gone
The first and quite likely only thing I did this Tuesday past was go buy Ys, the new record from Joanna Newsom. I played it while driving home, and approximately thirteen minutes into the fourth track, I was met with such a rush of unfettered aural beauty that I drove my car into a tree.
Which is to say, safe at home, figurative flowering tree and car left far behind and having listened to it quite a few times in the days since that ecstatically imaginary physical harmonization, I really love this record.
November 17, 2006
A Conversation With Richard Linklater
When Richard Linklater's new film, an adaptation of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, opens today, it could potentially be construed as an act of terrorism. Literally. Congress just passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, the wording of which is vague enough to potentially lump an eye-opening film together with plots to blow of animal testing facilities. That would be pretty extreme, of course, but the fact that it's actually possible is pretty troubling.
I wish I'd interviewed Linklater a week later than I did, so I could have asked him about it. As it is, though, we had a great free-wheeling discussion. I always love it when filmmakers talk about their films without actually talking about their films.
* * *
If you don't mind, I'm just going to open my MacBook here. I like to record interviews straight to my desktop.
Look at that! Now if it could just transcribe too...
There's software that does that, isn't there?
They haven't quite perfected it yet. I've been following it for years, believe me. How nice would that be?
Makes the screenwriting easier, right?
"Idea!" And there it is on your computer to edit.
Well, let me kick things off with something I read in an interview with Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser. He said he wasn't completely comfortable with making his book into a film until he knew for certain that you were going to make it your own, and follow your own vision for it. What exactly was your vision for it?
We got off to a good start with this because Eric knew just enough about the film industry - he had grown up around it a little bit and he'd worked for a film company in New York. He was pretty savvy to how things work, and so, very wisely, he didn't just sell the book to the industry. He kept the rights, and we started working on it and he was like, "you know, if you just want to take it and make the movie and I'll see you at the premiere, that'd be great." And I was like, "no, you're going to be with me the whole way." Because I saw him as the conduit to so much of that world, even though...it's one thing to know it intellectually, but he had such contacts. Like, we'd go to Colorado and he'd introduce me to all these people in the book. He had done a lot of time thinking about it; he had written plays, he's a natural dramatist. I think he deserves a lot of credit, because he had thought of it, and he had the big central idea. He approached me with that, the idea of just kind of throwing out the book and making it about these workers. and following their lives. And that's when it clicked with me, and we were off to the races.
But we still spent about three years on the script, off and on, over time. We were both busy doing other things, and it was kind of an ongoing process. It was four and a half years ago when we first met, so it's been a long haul. We're both happy. He wrote a really uncompromised book, and I think the film's completely uncompromised, too.
When was the last time you ate fast food?
Well, I haven't eaten the fast food depicted in the movie in, like, twenty three years. Well, that's not true. I kept eating fish for a long time, and I would occasionally have a McDonalds fish sandwich. This was when I liked McDonalds. I remember I was in Vienna, and there's such a different culture there; at noon on Saturday, everything closes. There's just nothing. There are some restaurants open, but it took three hours to get lunch. It's just so frustrating - give me American efficiency! So you'd go to McDonalds and get a couple fish sandwiches. So this is when I appreciated their 'model of efficiency.'
But I had fast food a couple weeks ago in Austin at P. Terry's. They built it across from the McDonalds on South Lamar and Barton Spring, and it's kind of healthy fast food. Really tasty veggie burger, whole wheat bun, no trans-fat in the fries. They pay their workers a living wage, like nine dollars an hour with benefits. And it's like, wow! There is a way you can do it! This burger costs a buck eighty five - it's still cheap. Instead of ninety nine cents, which is so artificially low. You have to question anything that costs ninety nine cents. We're so spoiled. We spend less money now on food than any other time in history.
I wanted to ask you about one specific scene in the film. You set up Greg Kinnear's advertising executive as the protagonist of the film, and you think maybe he'll be a whistleblower...
And then all of a sudden he meets Bruce Willis' character, who deflates any possibility of him taking a stand. That's my favorite scene in the film...
The analogy here would be Colin Powell, before he goes and speaks in front of the UN. He's going to speak truth to power, we're not going to have another Vietnam - he knows. And yet the pressure is unbelievable to just be a good soldier and tote the party line and do your part. Because you're off the hook, you're absolved of any responsibility.
The corporate structure allows anyone absolution. Even the CEO. In another country, if your products kill people, you're under arrest. I remember in the 80s, a chemical planet thing where fourteen thousand people died in India. The CEO flew over to put a good face on it and they arrested him. That's unthinkable here. You only get arrested for illegal activity, like Ken Lay and those guys, but no one's responsible for the products. So if the structure allows you to be off the hook...
I just wanted to show that no one's a bad person. No one wakes up and looks at themselves in the mirror and says "I'm going to exploit, screw over the planet, hurt people...." You don't think like that. Everyone's like, "I'm doing my best. I'm providing jobs, helping the economy." We all live with our own self-justifications, and so it would have been so untruthful to the complexity of this industry and this world to turn everything into personality conflicts. Even politics - it's so much bigger than that. There are huge forces at work, and we're all capable of going along with that.
It's funny, the Mexican workers are striving to live like Greg's character lives. If they could have that middle class life, that's what they're working towards. But what we realize is that he's as insecure as anybody. We're all a couple of paychecks away from losing the house. Everyone's got a mortgage to pay. It's really tough to be a whistleblower, to stand up. It's so easy to be convinced that you're just going to be pissing in a huge ocean, that it's not going to make any difference. So it's kind of fun to show that. Like, "grow up, that's the way things are." And it was also to show in the same movie the youthful - what some would say naive - view. They [the students] know there's injustice and something wrong, and they're going to try to act on it. They have no political power and no money, they're just poor students. They're lucky that they're not poor Mexicans just trying to make a living, that they have this time in their life where they can sit around and bullshit, but they see things pretty clearly. They aren't a part of a special interest group yet. Once you work for the man, you have an angle, similar to Bruce Willis' character. He has an angle that serves him. And he's not lying. Everything he says in that conversation with Kinnear is technically correct. Just cook it. He's right. They can sell you meat right now with salmonella, they do all the time. Just cook it. He's correct in everything he says, he's just not seeing a very big picture.
You've got a really impressive cast for such a low-budget film, and I was wondering how many of them signed on because they felt strongly about this subject matter.
I don't know. Everyone has their own reasons, I guess. I think they liked what the script was getting at, but no actor would do it unless they liked their character. I think we gave actors stuff to do, and I think certain bigger-name actors who came in and worked a day or two - which I'm really thankful for, I mean, I didn't know Kris Kristoffersen or Bruce Willis, and they don't know me - I think they just liked those characters. It's kind of fun to just work a day or two, and if you have something to say through those characters, that means something too.
I know Bruce Willis is somewhat well known for being a Republican, and it's sort of great to see him in a movie that could be skewed as leftist right up until his character comes along; his presence sort of depoliticizes everything.
Yeah, I really didn't want it to be some left-wing polemical diatribe. It's complex; that's why it's important to have that voice. But as far as Bruce goes, he doesn't strike me as any one...he seems like a lot of folks who are free thinkers on any issue. I think that's what is missing in the public debate. You can't catch a politician like that, they're back painted into a corner with their ideological talking points. But I find myself, like, "okay, on that issue, I'm totally libertarian, but on that one..."
We're all free agents - except for our representatives, unfortunately. I found Bruce that way too. He's a real working class guy. He had some land in Idaho, and he got a ballot initiative about some environmental issues, some potato farmers polluting something. It seemed like it was for the common good, and he was really out there supporting this thing, and he got totally shut down by that industry. They just make ads, make you look like some sort of....they're polluting, but they can make it look like it's you, John Q. Citizen, who is under attack. "Let's get the government off our backs!" That's all we need is more regulation!"
I was talking to some young libertarians in Austin recently, and they were asking me about my views. I was like, yeah, I'd love to be libertarian, but there's just so much corruption, and corporations have been handed the whole store. We all know they don't regulate themselves, so I think there does need to be some oversight. When they have all the control - well, what do you know! They don't always act for the common good! So a watchdog, wherever it comes from, is kind of necessary.
During production, the film was operating under codename 'Coyote' during the shoot, to keep things undercover. Did you ever actually have any interference from the industries, or...
We made it a couple of weeks, and then we were outed. Someone in Austin explained what we were doing, and then the New York Times picked it up and wrote a big story.
I remember reading that.
It's funny. There won't be a story when the film comes out, they won't do a Sunday piece, but they will write a piece making it more difficult for us to get locations. And we lost a few locations; they just weren't the major ones.
My last question is sort of a bit of dorky Austin film-scene trivia. I'm always excited to see you working with cinematographer Lee Daniel, since you two go so far back. Is there a certain type of project you'll call him up for?
It depends on the project. There's always moving parts with any crew member. It's like a cast member, when they're right for something, they're right. We've got a history. I've got a history with Ethan [Hawke] too, and when it feels right for the project...
It's kind of like that with anybody on a production. I just happen to go back further with Lee. I want him to be engaged, emotionally, and this was a subject he could get a lot out of. It's always fun working with him. My old roommate. There's an upside to our shorthand, and a downside. Like - "Lee, you're calling me at one in the morning? If this was our first film together, you wouldn't be doing that!"
November 16, 2006
One Cut Down...
To celebrate finishing the first cut of Ciao, Yen and I are going to a press screening of The Fountain today. Of course, I'd be going to see The Fountain today regardless of whether we had finished the cut, but it's nice to assign a reason to things.
The film, at this point, is 86 minutes. We already know we'll be taking at least two minutes out, and then putting almost the same number back in. Add closing credits (but no title sequence - it's not that sort of movie) and we should end up right around 90. A really, really good 90 minutes. I'm burning a DVD of it right now so Yen can review it over the weekend. We're going to wait until the second cut is done before we let anyone else see it but, with a picture lock deadline of January 15th, I'd wager that we're 75% of the way there already.
November 14, 2006
Dance Party USA, pt. 2
In which, through the harsh static of speakerphones on both our ends, I talk about the film with its director, Aaron Katz, and producer, Brendan McFadden.
Before that, though, do take a minute to read the hot-off-the-presses New York Times review.
* * *
Congrats on the Pioneer Screening!
BRENDAN McFADDEN: Yeah, we're excited about it. I've been sending out personal messages to people for the last day or two, asking people to come. I kind of underestimated how long it would take.
So I've read the press kit for the film, which goes into the background of the film, but let's retrace a few of those steps. I know the script for the film went through quite a few permutations over the years. At what point did you decide to just go out there and make it?
AARON KATZ: I think it was during my fourth year at school. I'd had the script for almost two years at that time, and during that year we talked about trying to raise money for it, trying to raise fifty thousand dollars or something like that. And at some point...I believe it was actually Brendan who said we should just do it for for however much money we had right then, which was a few thousand dollars.
BRENDAN: Yeah. I think that the idea of raising money was informed initially a lot by David Gordon Green, because his idea was to shoot George Washington in the fashion that he did to make it formally distinctive from a lot of smaller independent films. I think we had the notion that maybe we should wait and do it like that - do it right, if you will. But I think that, the more we talked about it...I feel like there's so much talking about doing stuff in film, and I think the hardest thing is just sort of saying "I'm going to go ahead and do it."
Brendan, what exactly is the role of a producer on a micro-budgeted film like this?
BRENDAN: I think Katz did his fair share of producing as well, but really, it's kind of just the role of a friend, someone to offer an opinion. I don't think of myself as someone who wants to be a producer, but rather someone who wants to help friends make movies. In school, myself and Marc [Ripper], who produced it with us, and Aaron and I, we all lived together. We all went to school for directing, but I think that for all of us, we'd be happy to help each other make something. It's kind of just about providing support. And in many cases, especially after he made it and after it got into festivals, handling the stuff that maybe...like, I'm a little better at contacting people and being internet savvy and that kind of stuff. That's not so much Katz's bag.
AARON: Yeah, I agree with that. During production, we just kinda ended up dividing stuff into three parts. And whether that was, like, "okay, I'll go see about an amusement park location and you guys go organize with an acting class about getting people to audition," if there's three people doing stuff, you can accomplish more. We all did our share of producing, I think, and what Brendan said about being there to bounce ideas off of was definitely one of the most important things.
The film starts off with the sort of handheld naturalism that we've seen a lot lately, but then goes in slightly different directions. What are some of your stylistic influences?
AARON: I think they come from a lot of different places, and they've changed over time. Things that made sense to me in the past have sort of changed over the years. Initially, when I first went to school, I was really obsessed with Tarkovsy and Tati and stuff like that. Really natural in some ways, but also formal and internal. And Antonioni was big for me at that time too. And I still like all three of those filmmakers, but at the time I was all about never, ever moving the camera and having it be really static. I was like that for the first three years. I did all drama for the first three years. And then my fourth year I did a comedy, and over that period of time I wasn't thinking about the same kinds of things. I guess the thing about those filmmakers that appealed to me was the long-take aesthetic, and not just letting people get the idea of something but actually involving the audience in an actual experience. So I wanted to take those things and have it be a lot looser and have a lot more freedom. So that's sort of where the handheld aesthetic came from. And shooting it in Portland informed the aesthetic somewhat. I grew up there, and there's something about the city that makes me feel like...I don't know. There's something that makes sense about shooting it the way we did.
BRENDAN: And there's the utilitarian concerns, like being able to move quickly.
AARON: Yeah, there's that too.
I feel like there's sort of a generational aesthetic emerging in independent film, at the moment, with films like yours, The Puffy Chair, Mutual Appreciation, LOL. There are all these filmmakers who are embracing this sort of semi-improvisational naturalism. Do you feel like you're part of a movement of some sort?
AARON: I guess now, in some ways, definitely. Since South By Southwest, I've become good friends with Joe Swanberg and, to a lesser extent, Bujalski and the Duplass brothers as well. But at the time, I had no idea who any of those people were, and I suspect a lot of them didn't know each other either, until we met at SXSW. But yeah, as it turns out, I think we all share similar goals, but what's interesting and cool about it is that we're all coming at it from different angles. Although there is a shared goal of finding something more real, it's not all the same.
Definitely. And while you guys are all coming from disparate backgrounds and certainly weren't aware of each other while making your films, it's interesting to see this simultaneous, almost serendipitious movement emerging from the festival scene. It's kind of exciting.
BRENDAN: I kind of wonder if it doesn't stem from some sort of discontent over how independent film was going - or at least our perception of how it was going - and wanting to strike out and do something and, by virtue of that, having to do it cheap.
Going back to the specifics of the film, I'm curious about how the cast: where you got your actors and whether they were actors at all. I know some of them were friends of yours from school...
AARON: Let me think here...Jessica, who played Anna, was a friend of mine from high school. And then Chad [Hartigan] and Brendan were in the movie. But other than that, everyone else was from casting sessions. And some of them were actors. My theater teacher from high school told me about this acting class in Portland that had a lot of young people, and many of the people who came in and auditioned were from that. Cole was from that acting class, but Ryan [White], who played Bill, he just came in on a whim --
BRENDAN: I think, if I recall correctly, a girl who auditioned who we didn't end up casting told him about the audition. He was leaving Portland for Conneticut in two days and decided to come in anyway. We were having trouble finding someone for the part, and I think we knew right away that he was the right guy. We ended up flying him back from Conneticut.
AARON: We didn't have very much money, and he really wanted to be in the movie, so we agreed that we would pay for half of his ticket and he'd pay for half. Throughout production he kept bringing up how he owed us money, but never to this day has he payed us back. In fact, I've run into him a couple of times since, or sometimes calls me when he's in the city, and he's like "oh, we've gotta hang out, I've got your money this time!" And he never does.
Can you talk about shooting Gus' introduction? Did you just get on the bus and shoot the scene? Did you get any interesting responses from the other passengers to the rather graphic dialogue?
AARON: The way we shot it was this. It was actually a train - the light rail in Portland. As it is now, you just see the two guys sitting there, but as we conceived it initally, they were walking and waiting on the stop before they got on the train. We went through this whole complicated process of trying to time it so their walk timed out with when the train was coming and all this other stuff, but that got cut out of the movie and as it is, they're just sitting there. Mark, the other producer, got on the train the stop before and made an announcement that there were going to be people filming at the next stop. He would tell people a.) don't look at the camera or acknowledge that there's a camera there and b.) there's going to be some language that may be offensive to some people. We didn't get any interesting responses, but perhaps that was for the best in that case...
You know that Anatomy Of A Scene show on IFC? I was wondering if you could walk us through the big scene between Gus and Anna, from its inception to what's on screen. It's my favorite scene in the movie - it's really just an amazing piece of film.
AARON: The way I wrote it was that I really wanted to write quickly. So when I was writing it I was trying not to think at all, and things at the party were kind of happening in the script and somehow those two characters ended up out there together. I wrote that scene in one sitting, and it's actually pretty close to what's in the script. Probably ninety five percent of what's on screen is from the script. So I wrote that scene in twenty five minutes or whatever, however long it took me to write without stopping, and I guess it just came from the gut. It seemed right at the time. I don't know. I think I had a spark of an idea that this was the time where our expectations about him turned out not to be true. And the actors, what they brought to it...in that scene especially, it's a tough scene, and Cole really committed to working on it. We had this process of making memories real for him, and working with imagery and stuff like that, creating these memories so he's not just saying the words but they're actually coming from somewhere.
BRENDAN: I think Cole was also the most trained, and he approached it from the point of view of really breaking it down and making a lot of notes. He was very methodical in his preparations.
AARON: Yeah, Cole was a hard worker, in terms of preparing for it. And I think the good thing about it is that you don't see his work on screen. It was the best of both worlds; he worked hard to get things right, but a lot of people who are young and care about acting end up wanting to show you all this work that they've done. Cole was good about throwing it all away.
You were mired in post-production for almost two years. Was that incredibly frustrating, and has that affected how you're working now? I know you're making your new film, Quiet City, very quickly...
AARON: Yeah it was a very frustrating process. It took close to a year and a half, from the time we finished shooting to the time we had a final cut. Pretty much right up until SXSW, we didn't have a final cut. There was the distance thing. Zach, who was cutting it, was working for me for free, and I didn't have a lot of resources. For a while, his hard drive was filled up with things he was getting paid to do and so he couldn't work on Dance Party. Stuff like that. It definitely has informed the way I'm making this new movie, and it's part of the reason why I'm cutting it myself. I know that I can cut it in a month, a month and a half.
BRENDAN: I think also the post-process was a bit of a roller coaster ride emotionally, in that there were times when when it seemed like maybe we should make it a short, and a lot of us had different ideas about what to do with it, and at times it seemed like a hopeless endeavor...
AARON: But I will say that the one good thing about having all those ups and downs is that it turned out a better movie than it would have been if it had been cut in a couple months. The movie it turned out to be...I'm pretty happy with it, and it's the best movie it could be. In that way, it's a good thing we had so long to think about it and let it come to what it is now.
I know you're selling copies of the film online. Is that an official release, or are you going to have something more substantial somewhere down the road?
BRENDAN: We are going to have something more substantial in the future. I'm not sure exactly what it's going to be. Right now, yeah, you can buy it for twelve dollars and it's a burned DVD with just the movie on it. If you want it, you can certainly buy it online, but there will be something more. There's a couple more festivals that are going to happen, so probably sometime in late spring of next year there'll be a new DVD.
That sort of wraps up my line of questioning. Do either of you have any final thoughts prior to the official theatrical premiere of the film?
AARON: Brendon, do you want to add anything?
BRENDAN: I don't know. I was writing this long thing for the invitations to the screening that I ended up scrapping, this statement about the whole experience...I think that for us, the whole SXSW experience was really great, just in terms of SXSW and Matt Dentler supporting the film, and as a way to meet other people. You're meeting people who are excited about the same things you are, and who are making films as well, and it feels very friendly and communal and not at all competitive, which I think is pretty great.
AARON: I really liked that, too. And to add on to that, coming out of school, I had this idea that I think a lot of people feel in film school, that going out and making a movie is really ovewhelming and frustrating and there's all these reasons not to do it. And the experience of making Dance Party and then meeting all these different people who've gone out and done these movies, it's really encouraging to think that it's not overwhelming. The best thing to do is to just run headlong into it and make something, and to find reasons to do it rather than reasons not to do it. With this new movie that I've been doing, there's a lot of stuff that we didn't have planned out in advance.
BRENDAN: I think we had much less planned out in advance on Quiet City...
AARON: Yes, much less. But the fact is that it's all the more exciting to discover.
Dance Party USA, pt. 1
I've been reading Movie Mutations, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin, which was born out of the realization that cinephiles the world over are simultaneously and of their own accord being drawn to the same films and filmmakers; and I've been thinking about how there are similar traits noticeable in the films themselves; artistic sensibilities born of and in response to cultural impressions, political climates, generational ennui and what have you; and I've focused these thoughts on one particular microcosm of cinematic development, that being the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, where a certain type of filmmaking seems to flower above all others, and the filmmakers, inadvertently or otherwise, form a sort of self-propogating clique.
I'm thinking of the Duplass Brothers' The Puffy Chair, Andrew Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation, Joe Swanberg's Kissing On The Mouth and LOL and now Aaron Katz's Dance Party USA. These are all films made independently of each other, but they all have a sort of shared formal aspiration, a blurring of form and content (or, rather, a crystallization of Susan Sontag's belief that form and content should be inseparable, indistinguishable) and an alluring, incisive sense of naturalism.
With the exception of Bujalski's picture, all of these films were shot on prosumer digital video, which may represent a financial impediment more than anything else; but whereas just a few years ago filmmakers who couldn't afford otherwise were trying their best to make their video look like film (yours truly can be indicted on this count), what we have here is a new generation of filmmakers who treat video like video, who make it beautiful in the way that video can be beautiful. Which is to say that it doesn't matter what medium these films were made on; they move past the point of being judged on their technical specs, which means this whole paragraph is practically irrelevant.
So now that that's out of the way, let me say that what I think binds these films together, moreso than their improvisational qualities (regardless of whether or not they were scripted) and handheld aesthetic and overall naturalism, it is their disregard for overt incident. They exist almost entirely between the beats of a 'traditional' narrative, finding their own three act structures entirely within these exploded moments. I don't think I was ever more aware of this than at points in Dance Party USA; the first when I realized that the titular soiree was already in progress, and the second when the final shot revealed itself as such; suddenly the film was over, and my impressions of where it was going were forced into sharp contrast with where it had actually gone.
I missed Dance Party USA when it played at SXSW this past March, but caught up with it on DVD a few moths later and loved it. One of the most exciting things about it was how it not only fit in with the mode of filmmaking outlined above but so clearly distinguished itself on its own terms (I don't know how many of these directors subscribe to the auteur theory, but as much as clear as their similarities are, I think they're all equally and instantly recognizable as their directors' own films). Case in point: there's a common instinct to allude to the influence of Cassavetes in any film that features a handheld camera and any extent of improvised, naturalistic dialogue. Katz certainly earns that comparison - up to a point. But then, during a certain scene midway into the film (you'll know it when you see it), something happens. The camera stops moving, the characters keep talking and, over the course of the twenty best minutes of cinema I've seen this year, Dance Party USA becomes positively, painfully Bergmanesque.
Six paragraphs in and I've scarcely started to review the film. Maybe I should pause here to note that the film opens tomorrow at the Pioneer Theater in Manhattan. Those of you unable to make it can purchase a DVD-R copy of the film from the official website. It's a must-see.
November 13, 2006
- A frequent phenomenon of juxtaposition is that the faster the cutting, the longer a scene (or entire film) will seem, since the audience's eyes will have to do more work, traversing the plastic geography of the various compositions. The inverse is just as true, and so it is that Sátántangó, with its 150 shots spread out over seven and a half hours, never feels as long as it actually is; rarely feels that long at all, actually.
- Just as the infrequency of cuts keeps the film moving, so does a reduction in characters accelerate things up even more. From its second hour to its fourth and again for its last, the film hones in on individual characters: an obese old doctor and Estike, a disturbed little girl. I found these sequences the most mesmerizing in the film, and the most immediately accessible. I'm tempted to say that they signify a temporary transition from the political to (most specifically in Estike's case) the romantic, but I don't think the lines are as clearly delineated as that.
- The film is, of course, a technical marvel; the choreography of every shot is breathtaking - or rather, it should be breathtaking, if its duration didn't create a sort of technical amnesia. The shots go on for so long that, after a while, you forget about how astounding it is that the magazine hasn't run out of film, that the focus puller hasn't missed his endless number of marks, that the dolly hasn't hit a bump. One might argue that paying attention to the shots on an individual basis is detrimental to the film as a whole, but I don't think that's correct, because a.) there are only a few instances where shots overtly work in conjucnction with each other, react to each other and b.) Tarr has said that he considers time and location to be characters in his films, on the same level of importance as his human actors.
- I was impressed to see that Tarr credited his editor, Agnes Hranitzky, as 'co-auteur' (something that, as an editor, certainly appeals to my ego!) This morning, I read that they've actually shared both a professional and personal relationship for two decades, and that they plan their films out together in advance on a shot by shot basis, collaborating on the pacing and structure - a process which results in a very expediated post production process.
- I'm sure more than a few people who've seen the film would agree with me when I say that, after sitting through it, the prospect of turning around and watching it again is not only not very daunting, but rather inviting (well, maybe not right away; but Sontag's quote about being perfectly happy to see it every year for the rest of her life certainly makes sense). And while I certainly enjoyed the film, there were parts of it that I know I missed, dots I failed to connect; I want to grasp it fully (particularly the last third) before I let myself enjoy it completely.
- After seeing the film last year, Zach Campbell wrote a piece entitled Circumnavigating Cinema, in which he bemoaned the reduction that would occur when Sátántangó became available on DVD. I agreed with him then, and still do now; I couldn't imagine seeing this film on a television screen, in multiple installments (I still feel guilty about seeing it over two days, as if I cheated). It demands the cinematic, 35mm experience in a way that few films do - at least the first time. I'd add the additional qualification that such a DVD's value as a study guide, a way to examine the film in piecemeal, would supersede its relegation to a piece of consumerist media.
- More to the point: I don't feel the fact that I traveled almost 1000 miles to see the film on the big screen is any way diminished by the fact that Facets is indeed going to release it on DVD next week. I'll probably even buy it at some point.
November 11, 2006
Going to see Sátántangó
One of the things I love about traveling are the regional anachronisms, like being given an ice scraper at the rental car place. Which came in handy after the surprise snowstorm last night. I love snow!
I'm in Chicago right now to see Bela Tarr's Sátántangó; in fact, I'm writing this during the first intermission, after the first 140 minutes. I had originally thought that maybe I'd take before-and-after pictures throughout the screening; but then, as I sat down for the first chunk, I realized that to do so would be to propogate a sense of the film as an endurance test. Which, at some point within five hours from now, the film may well have proven to be (to me, at least, although I doubt it), but it's never wise to predefine a film by the moments its lights go down and up.
I think Jonathan Rosenbaum is here.
Now it's at the second intermission. The film just keeps getting better and better and I'm torn at the moment between watching the last third now or waiting its repeat engagement tomorrow. I'm totally in the mood to sit down for another three hours, but Kris Williams is celebrating her birthday tonight, and it'd be a shame not to see her and Joe while I'm here.
It's now the next morning. Friendship won out over cinephilia. The party was awesome, and I popped my karaoke cherry. I was going to impress everyone with my mastery of Outkast's Mrs. Jackson, but it kept turning up as a disc error; and after Joe's spectacular peformance of Jay-Z's 99 Problems, it would have been a let down anyway.
I'm about to head around the corner from this tea shop I'm currently sitting in and sit down for the rest of the reason I took this trip. I'll write more about the film (maybe) upon my return home, which is currently scheduled for six o'clock tomorrow morning. I imagine the weather in Texas is rather balmy right now; it's going to be really disappointing, getting off that plane.
November 8, 2006
So that rumor about Aronofsky adapating The Road wasn't quite true; but one of his producers, Nick Weschler, did grab up the rights, and has attached a different director to the project: John Hillcoat, who directed The Proposition. That film had quite a few tonal similarities to some of McCarthy's westerns; I'd say it's a pretty suitable match.
This is all via Variety, where it is also mentioned that Weschler's partners are also backing Terence Malick's next film.
In a related note, it's come to my attention that Nick Cave is following up his score for The Proposition by composing the music for that upcoming western with the amazing title, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford.
November 7, 2006
Plans For Today
I am going to vote and then go see Borat.
November 6, 2006
We're a few minutes shy of the hour mark on Ciao now, which means that the first should be done with the first cut in about a week. This is the most rewarding work I've ever done as an editor; usually, when I'm not working on my own projects, post-production feels like a job -- a fun job, usually, but there's no denying that it's work (just like being on set when you're not a director). This time, though, it feels like such a completely creative endeavor that I can go to bed at night after working on it feeling fulfilled, like I've done something worthwhile with my day. Not that I do go to bed after working on it, of course - I'm too much of a wannabe-workaholic to do that. I'm just saying that I could.
So clearly, I think the film is turning out great. We ran into our first problem scene - our first instance of having to make certain edits not because we can but because we have to, of having to fix things, of actually worrying. It's an eight page dialogue scene, involving three people sitting at a square table, comprised of thirteen camera set-ups. That's the recipe for an eyeline nightmare, right there. We got halfway through it tonight, and afterwards, to refresh ourselves, we turned back to the scene we cut previously - a six page dialogue scene, this one limited to two characters. After we took our first pass at it yesterday, we sat back to watch how it played. Five and a half minutes later, I think we both had tears in our eyes, and it was right around then that I realized I can actually imagine this movie up on the big screen. That's not to say it'll ever get there, at least in any widely proliferated manner - but if by chance it does, it'll belong there, which is more than I can say for any other film I've ever worked on.
So anyway. I thought I'd take this opportunity to offer a little bit of advice for anyone who's shooting on a P2 and recording their audio to a DAT or hard disk recorder. If you roll over from your first card to the next in the middle of a take, make sure you get a tail slate. Also, if you're a sound recordist and you're using a hard disk recorder (the use of which I fully support), please try to remember to number each take correctly. Your editor will thank you. And if you're an editor in charge of syncing up four channels of hard disk audio to the four channels of on-camera audio already linked to the footage - hire an intern.
November 4, 2006
Two outstanding quotes from a single source, that being Old Joy director Kelly Reichardt in the latest issue of Filmmaker Magazine:
Embracing limits has ultimately helped me figure out my best way of working, like with Old Joy to be able to [work with] six friends and two actors, just eight people, to get this cabin in the woods and try something. There were no Blackberrys and no a.d. telling us what time to get up. At the end of the night we’d all say, “What time should we get up tomorrow?”
Some of my films have been a lot more like sewing — I’m shooting and editing and there are no people in them — and [this kind of filmmaking] allows [me] to practice and think about film and editing.
I love that last one especially, since that's what a lot of my own insular little filmmaking efforts are like. Can I even call it filmmaking when I'm sitting alone at some odd hour before dawn, like I am right now, painting matchboxes and sculpting miniature cadavers that will hopefully fit the unscripted vision that's shifting around inside my head? I guess that's what you normally call pre-production.
Posted by David Lowery at 5:43 AM
Chatting With Friends
jumping off bridges is playing in New York this weekend, LA next weekend and Washington DC after that. Marking these bicoastal playdates is this new interview with Kat and Stacy over at Green Cine, conducted by yours truly. So go read it, and then see the film. Or see the film, and then read it. Or don't read it at all, but still see the film. Show those gals the support they and their film deserve.
In doing this interview, I feel like I've finally made up for the time I fell through on my promise to put put flyers up for Kat's first film when it played in Dallas six years ago. I had a good enough excuse - I didn't have a car - but I still felt bad about it.
Hmm. I don't have a car now, either. I junked it back in April, and I've decided to hold off on replacing it until I can afford to put a good downpayment down on a Hybrid. Which I might be able to do if I stopped paying for silly things like movies.
Posted by David Lowery at 2:56 AM
November 1, 2006
Fur: An Imaginary Portrait Of Diane Arbus
What Steven Shainberg has set out to do with Fur: An Imaginary Portrait Of Diane Arbus is free the biopic from the shackles of literal history. Within the limits of that end, the film is an unqualified success. Beyond the confines of grand intentions, one runs into some problems - but nonetheless, I've done enough damning of the traditional biopic (no need to name names) that I can't help but embrace this picture.
Serious devotees of Diane Arbus may mistake this for a revisionist piece of history. It isn't. Shainberg alights so quickly from biographical detail (beginning with the casting of the statuesque Nicole Kidman) that it's almost impossible to read the film as anything other than fantasy, and equally difficult to keep in mind its basis in fact. This will leave those audience members unfamiliar with Arbus somewhat in the dark as to the import of this enigmatic woman on the screen; indeed, none of Arbus' work is featured in the film, and those expecting to learn something about one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century will leave the theater as much in the dark about the art as the artist.
Thus, I think there are very particular and rather precarious criteria necessary for appreciating Fur to the fullest extent. One must be aware of Arbus' photography and, to a certain extent, her life and death, and keep her and her work in mind throughout the film - but not to the extent that the extensive fiction of Shainberg's script becomes distracting or insulting. Forget the real woman and the film suddenly becomes pointless; recall her too vividly and it is conversely diminished.
The key words with which to approach the film are in its title; that it is an imaginary portrait is not just an excuse to play fast and loose with the facts, but a reminder to take nothing in the film at face value. Indeed, what is there on the surface isn't terribly satisfying; literally reading the film as an assumption of the events that lead Arbus to pick up a camera confines the film to - for all its excessive weirdness - a rather typical story of self discovery, a romance that is equal parts Beauty And The Beast and Shainberg's own Secretary. As a series of events, the film suffers.
But even though the film has an ostensible timeline, complete with title cards reading 'Three Years Earlier' and 'Two Years Later' and such, I really don't believe that Shainberg and screenwriter Erin Crissidia Wilson intended the film to be constricted to any sort of chronology. The gateway metaphor seems clear: Diane, the daughter of wealthy furriers, begins her road to artistic self discovery when she meets Lionel (Robert Downey, Jr.) a former circus-freak who is covered head to toe in fur. Lionel can be interpreted as a real character, but doing so would trap the film within its own baroque design. Better to read him as a manifestation of something deep and dark within Diane herself; this frees the film from its otherwise awkward temporality and spacial geography. Lionel's apartment (like James Spader's distracting office in Secretary) is so cavernous and baroque that it's almost impossible to suspend disbelief, until one begins to notice that the ornate grecian tanks in which he dyes the wigs made of his mane resemble the tubs of developer and fixer commonly found in the darkroom.
It's a delicate substructure of imagery and incident, punctuated by latent shots of Diane's Rolleiflex camera, which goes unused for most of the film. Arbus didn't actually begin using a Rolleiflex until later in her career (and indeed, it became intrinsic to her acclaimed style), but its prominence in the film further speaks to Shainberg's intentions. Additionally, it is one of the two overt tethers he provides to the real woman from whom this fanciful creation of his has sprung. The other is the marginalized folk who will eventually become Arbus' subjects; the sideshow freaks and societal outcasts who, in the film, she meets through Lionel. As obvious a symbol as Lionel's hirsute body is the image of dwarves and giants and dominatrixes parading down from the trapdoor in the floor of the upstairs loft, through Diane's ceiling, into the relatively objective world of her family's apartment.
This, technically speaking, could be seen as reality; this apartment, her husband, her children, her obstreperous socialite family (whose airs inevitably and unfortunately invites comparisons to Birth). But the Diane who coexists with them belongs entirely to the world upstairs and to the abstract process that, perhaps moreso than the woman herself, the film is a portrait of. Shainberg has pinpointed a miniscule black hole in Arbus' biography and exploded it into this flight of emotional fancy. He has, essentially, given narrative form to what is commonly referred to as 'the creative spark.' In that sense, the same film could have been made about any artist, or any member of the audience, which is exactly what most biopics don't do; they stick so strictly to the life of their subjects that they become stolidly exclusive. In this case, Arbus and the details of her life are the vehicle for an idea, rather than a portrait unto themselves. It isn't entirely successful, and a convincing argument could be raised that it isn't successful at all; but if I were given a choice between this film and one in which all the facts were laid out before me alongside her famous photographs, the choice would be simple: I'd rather not know.
The filmmakers were denied permission by Arbus' estate to use her photography, which reminded me of another biographical portrait with a similar title from a number of years ago: John Maybury's Love Is The Devil: Study For A Portrait Of Francis Bacon, starring Derek Jacobi as the artist and Daniel Craig as his lover/inspiration. Maybury was refused the right to use any the actual painting, and so instead turned the visual style of the film itself into an impressionistic reflection of Bacon's art. I haven't seen the film since it opened back in 1998, but I remember really loving it. Has anyone else seen it? I think it deserves to be revisited.
I haven't written anything about Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, other than to mention that I saw and loved it, because I don't know that I have anything original to say about it. I thought the fusion of accents and music (and Converse shoes) resulted in a more believable period piece than pretty much anything short of The New World. What Coppola nailed, and what made all the difference in the world, was the emotional accuracy. She refused to let historical context take precedence over character. I'm fairly certain plenty of other critics have, by this point, written similar sentiments, probably using many of the same words and phrasing, and so I'll leave my opinion at that, with, as a postscript, a note of amazement that I never once thought of the film as biopic. I suppose another trope of the genre is that they take place in the past; Coppola's film, despite its setting, occurs vividly in the present.